LEGISLATIVE NEWS: House approves Orwall bill increasing veteran and military member suicide prevention efforts

OLYMPIA – This afternoon, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to advance a measure to establish programs aimed at preventing suicide among Washington’s veterans and military members.

Military service members, veterans and their families are at increased risk of being affected by suicide. Veterans make up only 7 percent of Washingtonians but account for 19 percent of all suicides in the state. Over the last five years, nearly 1,000 veterans have died by suicide in Washington.

“This bill is about saving lives, the lives of those who have served our country. Sadly, across the nation, we lose twenty veterans a day to suicide. Veterans are 52 percent more likely to take their lives than civilians who have never served. In Washington, we have over 500,000 veterans who have defended our rights and protected our freedoms; it is our turn to protect them by giving them the resources they need.” said State Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, prime sponsor of House Bill 1181.

Watch Rep. Orwall’s Floor remarks below:

A member of the Joint Committee on Veterans’ and Military Affairs, and co-chair of the NCSL Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs, Orwall is committed to working on measures that support the people who have served or currently serve in our armed forces. She has also worked tirelessly on suicide prevention measures since being elected into office.

This legislation addresses a key quality of life issue. Many veterans are homeless, more than half have mental health issues and many feel misunderstood by the providers from whom they receive care.  These problems have only increased, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orwall served on the Governor’s Challenges Team charged with reviewing best practices across the nation to prevent veteran suicide. Her bill contains the recommendations from this work group, which is led by the Washington Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

“House Bill 1181 will allow your Washington Department of Veterans Affairs and our partners to engage our Washington communities in preventing veteran, military and family member suicide through education, volunteerism, and their financial support,” said Alfie Alvarado, Director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

With passage of Orwall’s bill, the Washington DVA will provide an online database to service members and veterans on mental health and suicide prevention resources.

Orwall’s legislation:

  • Strongly encourages health care providers to “ask the question,” meaning, asking new patients whether they are veterans, members of the military, or family member of either. If yes, they will be provided with suicide prevention materials, developed by DOH and DVA, that will include web-based resources for various outreach and services related to preventing suicide among veterans and military service members.
  • Extends and modifies the Suicide-Safer Homes Task Force to continue their work on promoting safe storage of lethal means including firearms and medications.
  • Creates the Veterans and Military Members Suicide Prevention Account and a suicide prevention community-based services grant program to support Veteran Peer programs that can effectively engage veterans who are isolated in the community.
  • Establishes a new 988 vehicle license plate emblem to help fund veteran suicide prevention work.

Last year, the Legislature approved Orwall’s House Bill 1477, concerning the implementation of the 988 Suicide Prevention line scheduled to begin this summer. Building on that work, this session she teamed up with Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, to amend portions of HB 1181 on the House Floor to include the requirement that any public works project constructed after July 1, 2024, must have a sign displaying the 988 National Behavioral Health Crisis and Suicide Prevention line.

House Bill 1181 now heads to the Senate for consideration.